Back to John Ottewell introduction


(Cheux - July, 1944)

Under the green hedges, riflemen
sit atop their brown-loan ‘slits’
smoking like chimneys, wagering
dead men’s rings, watches and gold teeth
on the turn of each card.
Jones '61 lays out his ‘running flush’
and with a broad grin, scoops the pot once more.
“You lucky swine”, echoes along the hedge,
“Done us again ’e ’ave, the waster,
Ere, why doncha bloody well leg it back to Ynysbwl
and leave us in peace?”
Jones 61 saunters back towards his slit-trench,
Filling his ‘small pack’ with the
‘ill gotten’ gains of War.
Suddenly - from out of the blue.
The ‘Eight-eights’ come whistling in.
The Orchard erupts in flames and flying metal
And the cries for ‘stretcher bearer’ ring loud and frantic.
Soon the dust settles, the bees start droning again,
and the card game resumes.
The bets are laid as the Platoon Sergeant comes across.
“Who copped it up the Hedge Sgt?”
Asks the ‘dealer’ Evans 84.
‘Jones ‘61’ says the Sergeant,
“Piece of shrapnel through his arse”.
“Lucky bastard, Lucky bastard again”.
The cry echoes along the hedgerow.

5 Card 'Brag* is the most popular past-time for dug-in infantrymen - "Waiting to go". They frequently play for *loot* taken from captured prisoners and the dead.
Note - It happens on both sides - the 'perks' of war.

EVRECY, July 1944 

“Men of the ‘Black Flash’, ‘Sospan’ and ‘Dragon’,
Wading through ‘bayonet’ wheat, knee-high and wet,
Mortars and ‘eighty-eights’ playing their ‘overtures’
Spandaus and Schmeissers are waiting and set.

Up to that hill enshrouded in mortar smoke,
Tellermines, ‘S’ mines, a’ mushroom the slope,
Tiger tanks, panzerfausts blasting our carriers,
Air burst exploding like ‘bubbles of soap’.

Now cross the singing Guighe into the alder wood,
Remnants of companies merged to platoon,
Screams for the stretchers with ‘Mother’ and ‘Jesus’
“Steady old son .... we’ll have you out soon.”

Men of the ‘Black Flash’, ‘Sospan’ and ‘Dragon’.
Limping it back all haggard and pale,
Two hundred dead for a handful of prisoners,
Just one consolation, “They’ve brought up the mail.”

Note: ‘Letters from Home’ - The high point of every day.